Descanso Gardens make a lush addition

For the first time in nearly two decades, Descanso Gardens is expanding — planning a four-acre collection of native oaks, shrubs and grasses.

“It's almost what Descanso was before humans started cultivating plants here,” said Brian Sullivan, Descanso's director of horticulture. “What we're creating is the feeling of the landscape before people moved in.”

The proposed woodland area has been closed to the public for decades and until recently was invaded by non-native eucalyptus trees.

About five years ago, Sullivan said, the Los Angeles County Fire Department approached Descanso about removing the eucalyptus trees because they pose a high fire risk. As the eucalyptus came down, oaks began to flourish.

Sullivan said that although the new garden will be managed, with footpaths, benches and rest areas, the aim is to show off the native landscape of the Verdugo Mountains.

Sullivan said Descanso plans to begin planting in fall 2013, the best season for starting native plants, and open the area in spring 2014. It will be the first new section of the gardens to open since the rose garden made its debut in 1994.

Descanso will host a community meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16, in Van de Kamp Hall, where officials will offer information and seek feedback. A walk-through of the proposed woodland garden will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday for those already in the gardens.

Sullivan said acorns and young oaks will be planted alongside the oaks already in the area. As the oaks grow and project more shade, the varieties of meadow grasses and shrubs will evolve.

Descanso Gardens abuts trails that go through the oak woodlands of Cherry Canyon.

“We're re-creating a natural habitat next to a natural habitat,” Sullivan said. “So we're hoping for synergy in terms of animal and plant diversity.”

Sullivan said creating a holistic environment of natural plants with primary species and companion species working together is a new tack for Descanso. The current 20-acre native garden takes a specimen-based approach, bringing in individual examples of native plants.

“It's new in the sense that we're creating back here is a plant community — it's a systems-based approach,” he said.

Descanso Gardens' Chief Operating Officer Jillian Rook said the project was moving forward now because the organization secured $150,000 of funding for it, including $75,000 from L.A. County's Oak Mitigation Fund. Rook said that although she hoped the new area would attract visitors, selling more tickets isn't the main goal.

“As a nonprofit we are stewards of the land, and as stewards of the land I don't think we necessarily just look at return on investment,” she said.

“The decision was made on wanting to provide more space for our visitors.”

For more information on the walk-through or community meeting, visit or call (818) 949-4200.

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